Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is Common Easier?

Is it easier to grow common plants?  You would think so.  At least, I always thought so.  That is, until I tried to grow azaleas.

The common azalea - someone else's azaleas

Here, azaleas are everywhere.  There is even an annual Azalea Festival that showcases these beautiful plants.  Every year around the time of the festival, the garden centers here have their azaleas on sale.  Every year, I buy some.  This year, I'm going to quit doing that.  For some reason, every azalea I try to grow, dies.

I have no idea why I can't grow an azalea.  They obviously like this climate.  It's obvious to me that everyone else can grow them.  I have put them in almost every bed in my garden.  Lots of sun, lots of shade, and everything in between.  I was lamenting the fact that my azaleas always die to another gardener, and he said it was my soil.

I thought about that for a while.  No, it can't be.  Although some areas where I have had azaleas planted have less than perfect soil, others areas have had beautiful, dark, fertile soil.  It doesn't seem to matter where I plant them - they die.

Nor does it matter how much water they seem to get here.  Some have been planted in dry areas, some in wet areas, and some in areas that are neither wet nor dry.  It makes no difference.

It also doesn't seem to matter what kind of azalea it is, either.  I have tried big ones, little ones, even native deciduous ones.  They all croak on me.

Again - these are not my azaleas

Different sun, water, type, and soil.  I've tried it all.  Nothing seems to make a difference.  No one understands why my azaleas die.  I don't either.  Plants do grow here.  Plants are happy here!  Well, at least, most of them.  And the plants that have died, I generally have an idea why.  But not azaleas.  They are not happy, and I have no clue why they aren't.

So, this year I will quit.  I will quit trying to figure it out.  I will quit planting more azaleas in the hope that I will figure it out.  I will quit buying azaleas.  Even the ones on sale.  I will quit pinning my hopes on eventually having large bushes bursting with blooms every spring.

It's just not going to happen.

These aren't mine, either

Common implies easier.  But sometimes, it just isn't.

Instead of azaleas, maybe I'll try something exotic instead.

(The photos were taken last March.  If you want to see more azalea photos like these, click HERE and HERE.)

Do you grow azaleas?


85 comments:

  1. Azalea is not a plant that is happy in our climate, yet they are sold by the thousands here (very common). The Farm does not grow them since they are hard to keep alive for long times. People keep buying them and the poor things linger. The climate change may help Azalea grow here someday, but likely it is more related to our soil conditions!

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    1. I remember seeing gardenias being sold up north one time. Surprised, I asked if they would live there, and I was told "no, but the southerners don't know that yet!" Such a waste of time, money, and effort!

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  2. That's a bit of an enigma isn't it? The only other thing I can think of is the pH of your soil as azaleas tend to prefer it on the acidic side, but I can imagine you would have figured that one out too by now.

    At least all your other plants are doing well and appreciate the care you give them :)

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    1. My soil is acidic, and my hydrangeas turn blue naturally. I think I will never solve this mystery!

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  3. They need acid soil. I can't grow them either. I have neutral soil, even feeding Holly tone really didn't help. Heck with it don't need them anyway. :)
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. That's what I'm beginning to think - don't need them anyway! haha :)

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  4. We grow them in Poland, but unfortunately we need to wrap them in straw or coniferous branches for the winter, otherwise the smaller plants wouldn't survive Polish winters. In my area (central Poland) there is at maximum -30C degress in winter. This year was at maximum -16C so I think azaleas will flower in spring without any troubles :)

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    1. Oh, that's cold! The coldest it's been here this year has been around 20F (-7C). I hope your azaleas flower beautifully for you!

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  5. Sometimes you just have to move on from a certain plant and find what works best in your garden. That is a surprise about azaleas in your garden since they do grow well in east Texas and you have so many beautiful plants in your garden. They don't grow well in San Antonio but I have had them in other gardens and basically ignored them unless they needed a trim.

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    1. They are everywhere here! It's embarrassing, really. But, like you say, I just need to move on!

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  6. How about putting one in a big pot enriched with compost and acidifier. This is a real mystery!

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    1. You have a great idea there! If I could put one in a pot (and have it live for a while), perhaps I could figure out what they like - and what I'm doing wrong!

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  7. Hmmm, I love a good mystery. Have you had a soil test? That would be step 1 I would think. They do not grow all that well for me here but some thrive. I have noticed well drained soil is absolutely key. In North Carolina where the soil is sandy they grow awesomely. Here I have clay soil but they do fine as long as it is well drained. To solve that I divide the rootball into four quadrants, spread those quadrants, dig a shallow hole, build up the center then spread the quadrants around the center then backfill making sure the base of the shrub is above ground by an inch or so. They work out better than rhodies which I absolutely cannot grow. It is weird though that you've tried so many times and so many different kinds as it seems something should work. Don't give up as you may yet find the success you are seeking. P.S. Aucubas should do great in your soil, mine is clay, but they, like azaleas (in the same family), need well drained soil so all of my acubas are raised above the surrounding grade in a raised bed. Good luck! Geez, wrote I book I did.

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    1. Perhaps my soil - even the areas where my soil looks beautiful - does not drain as well as I think it does. That would be a good test. I do know I have the right Ph. Thanks for the info on the aucubas. The next time I see one for sale, I think I'll pick it up! Yours is gorgeous!

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  8. Shake the azalea dust from the bottoms of your sandals and move on! I see them around town here and they always thrive in places where they're left aloe and have plenty of space around them. They die in my garden because I'm always digging holes to plant new stuff and they have too much competition from surrounding plants. They are gorgeous for the couple of weeks they're in bloom but then they're just lumps of green the rest of the year. Azaleas are beneath you and they have been shrinking from your gardening awsomeness.

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    1. That's it! They've been "shrinking from my gardening awesomeness"! :) haha - Thanks for the laugh! I'll pretend that's my problem entirely! ;)

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  9. Holley, these azaleas have been forced exactly for sale, no more. They got large amount of hormones for flowering. If you are growing the rhododendrons (the same family of azaleas) you have some acid soil, where they grow. So plant azaleas not far from rhododendrons. After blooming they will have new leaves.

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    1. From what I understand, rhododendrons don't do well here because it's too hot for them, with not enough winter cold. :( I do love them, though, and if I could have rhododendrons, I wouldn't even bother trying to have azaleas! :O

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  10. I feel for you. Azaleas are so beautiful. Beautiful flowers and foliage. But the flowers are not really long lasting, at least here but so pretty when in bloom. You would think my climate would not be right for azaleas, but it's one plant that does well for us for some reason. The 'George Taber' azalea has been a particularly hardy one for us. It's the southern indica type. I also agree to try one in a pot and move it around the yard to see where it's happiest. But you do have so many beautiful flowers so don't be too sorry if azaleas are not meant to be.

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    1. Maybe I'll look for George Taber. Oops - there I go again! ;)

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  11. Ah come on! Give them one more shot! This year it will surely work out for you!

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    1. hahaha - That's what I say every year! Really, you would think at least one could stay alive for me!

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  12. Azaleas grow well over here, but if you don't want burnt leaves in summer they need mostly shade. Acidic soil for them, did u try adding cow manure to the spot you planted them. You could get your soil tested. Or grow them in pots, their quite happy in pots. Just one more try. Perhaps you should try buying from a different source. I think roses outdo azaleas any old day.

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    1. I hadn't thought about the source, and I do usually buy the ones on sale because I won't cry (too hard) when they die. I just may have to try growing one in a pot.

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  13. So is your soil acidic? between PH of 4.5 and 6.0. that never drying out are what they need.

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    1. I know some have died from drying out, but I don't think that's been the problem with all of them. I really have tried to give them different water/sun and soil. And yes, my soil is slightly acidic. Maybe not quite acidic enough, though. That would probably explain things!

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  14. Your captions crack me up- "again, these are not my azaleas", "these aren't mine either" hahahaha In Houston they are EVERYWHERE. We have the azalea trail every year there which is fun. I know they do require different soil and little shade and like water- I think is why they do well in Houston. My mom's are huge and she does nothing and has had them far back as I can remember. I don't think it's you, I think it's the soil. The soil they are finicky about, they do need it more acidic. Try the Encore if you have not- they are a little tougher it seems and bloom more. I forget where you are located... maybe just one more try? They really are pretty. Some landscapes here in Austin have them though they are not as common here as in Houston (where I am from). But I do see them and I see them doing well here when / where taken care of. Can't hurt... one more try...... =0)

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    1. I have tried the Encore azaleas, and they died just as easily as the others. ! I am in east Texas (Tyler), and they are everywhere here - just not in my garden! One more try? We'll see...

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  15. Have you visited the Tyler Azalea Trails? You might want to do that and ask some of the homeowners about growing them. I have planted 3 Encore azaleas here in the piney woods of east Texas and they bloom twice a year. I have sandy acidic soil. I dug a hole, filled it with pine needs, placed the azalea in and topped it with the sand from the hole. I get my azaleas from Blue Moon Gardens in Edom, Texas. Those folks know everything about gardening!

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    1. Maybe I need to fill my hole with pine needles! I certainly have plenty of them to spare. Azaleas are so common here, I would imagine most homeowners would look at me a bit crazy if I told them azaleas did not grow for me! That's the reaction I've had when I mention it to other gardeners in this area.

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  16. There are lots of azaleas in my front garden, planted my previous owner of the house. I don't even pay attention to them (kind of treat them as step-children since they were not planted by me) except while taking pictures when they are blooming. But, they grow fine and bloom. I know that Azaleas love acidic soil. Have you tested the ph-level of your soil? If the soil is not acidic, azaleas will not grow and will die.

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    1. My soil is acidic, and it seems that everyone that has azaleas think they are so easy. That's why it's been so hard for me to figure out! So frustrating!

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  17. Exactly my experience with rhododendrons. They grow everywhere around here and some are large old specimens, but I can't grow them under any conditions. Like you I tried different sun conditions, soils and exposures, but nope. So I gave up. I applaud your "reality check" -- time to move on!

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    1. I think you might be right that it's time to move on. My dream of having beds of big azaleas will have to become another dream!

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  18. I sometimes think certain plants just don't want to be with us. I can not grow Aloe, even though I can root any rose from a stem cutting. Go figure?!?!?!

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    1. That is odd, Nadia! I guess we each have our own talents, and aloe is not one of yours, and azaleas is not one of mine!

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  19. How well I know the frustration of a plant that just won't grow for me! I do grow azaleas, but they can be a bit picky. Besides needing acidic soil, azaleas must be planted high, with the root crown a little above ground. Their roots need loose, well draining but moist soil for best growth. I add a lot of organic soil conditioner to the native soil when I plant them. And you MUST put a good layer of organic mulch around the plant. Pine needles are good. It's also important to avoid cultivation around azaleas, as the roots are very shallow. I have lost a few azaleas to digging dogs! Semi-shade is best, avoiding hot afternoon sun.

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    1. You might have just found the key! I am not sure I've been planting them high enough! Thanks for that tip! Perhaps I need to try just one more time, and plant the crown above the ground. If that doesn't work, I will definitely give up!

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  20. Not sure if I can add that much, most have been said already! But to reiterate, I think you can grow azaleas beyond the first flowering period and for many years if you buy perhaps a bit more expensive specimens from a nursery, plant them with good spacing as they need room for their roots, leave them well alone and don’t disturb the soil around their roots, mulch (I use bark), and make sure they are planted well away from hot sun as they get scorched. Fertilise with fertiliser for acid plants in the spring before and during flowering and keep watering when needed. I have a 10 year old azalea kept in a tub for a couple of years but eventually planted out in the garden – but I live in London :-)

    I am surprised you are supposed to be able to grow azaleas but not rhododendrons, most of them need fairly the same conditions.

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    1. I think the problem with rhododendrons here is our heat. Too hot, not enough cold in winter. What I wouldn't give to be able to grow them! Although, given my success with azaleas, they might not like my garden, either! I would be extremely heartbroken if that were the case - so, I guess it's best that they not be able to be grown here at all!

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  21. I gave up on azaleas years ago. Our builder planted white ones in front of our house and the mites immediately infested them. Since I couldn't get rid of the mites, I got rid of the azaleas and never looked back. I put in a beautiful variegated dwarf abelia instead.

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    1. Perhaps I should look into abelias! :)

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  22. That is very weird..so let me play sherlock holmes....How long did you have them before they died? Did you buy them from the same place? Did you plant all of them at the same place? What was similar and what was different? Something doesn't sound right at all....

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    1. It's just that..azaleas were the first thing I planted...and you know more way more than I do...I think something else is wrong....ie..planted them at the same place, bought them the same place...died at the same time of year...something...

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    2. http://azaleas.org/index.pl/faq.html#die

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    3. Thanks, Janie! I know they're easy for most people. But now I'm beginning to wonder if I'm not planting them too deep. You would think of all the ones I've planted (probably about 50!), I would have planted at least one right! Not sure if I'll try again or not. I would really love to have some big beautiful azalea bushes, but I'm coming to the conclusion that growing something else would just be easier!

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  23. I have killed several but managing to have a few going now for about a year. I know that they don't like a lot of fertilizer but it seems that I am also not sure why several have failed. So, forget about it! Grow lettuce and brussel sprouts! Jeannine

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    1. I am glad to know I'm not the only azalea killer out there! :) I think your advice about growing something else is what I'll do! Run with the successes, right?

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  24. I am having a similar problem with hollyhocks! I've tried growing them from seed and buying seedlings, and always when I plant them out they die. I've managed to get one or two to the flowering stage, but compared to the dozens I started with it's a dismal failure! Regarding azaleas, I have about 5 and they seem to do their thing with no help from me. I'm sorry to tell you I'm not all that fond of them and they will most likely get the chop some time... But for plants that like acidic soil that I do want to keep, like camellias and blueberries, I put coffee grounds around them. I'm not sure if this really works but it doesn't seem to hurt. Best of luck with your azaleas, it may be better doing a garden walk around your town during flowering season!

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    1. Sorry to hear about your hollyhocks. I've never tried growing them, so I can offer no solutions. I think I will just enjoy the azaleas from afar. They are always so beautiful in the spring, and it seems everyone grows them, but I guess it's just not in the cards (or the garden) for me!

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  25. No azaleas here, Holley, but I do have a blank stained glass lamp form beckoning me to build a lamp of azaleas. Since I haven't had any first-hand experience with said azaleas, I doubt my ability to portray them in some semblance of authenticity will be very convincing, but I vow to try some day.

    I have had the same sort of problems with Japanese Maples, but Wisconsin being so cold of a climate doesn't help. And I can't grow roses very well, either. Your garden has so many other exquisite plantings I'm tempted to say 'who needs the finicky things?' but I know how you feel, it's a mystery you'd like to solve. Come to think of it, I've had bad luck with several hardy hydrangeas over the past few years too. They look healthy and then all of sudden, they're goners.

    We're having a rousing good snowstorm tonight, complete with sleet. Great stuff!

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    1. Oh, Karen, your azalea lamp would be gorgeous! They really are a beautiful flower, and I can imagine a light shining through their glass petals would be lovely. Don't tell anyone, but I can't grow Japanese Maples, either. They are so expensive, though, I gave up on them long ago! Stay safe through your snowstorm - and warm!

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  26. Hi Holley, I have not the time to read the other comments at the moment may be it's already said, but for Azaleas you need very acid soil. Also moist and shadow, certainly the first years after planting I am sure you knew that already, but now the strange thing at my place. I have the perfect conditions, Rhododendrons are growing like weeds, have lots of flowers every spring, but..........the smaller ones, the formerly so called Azaleas with smaller foliage, don't thrive and after a few years they are dead. How can, I really don't know. I stopped trying them already for years, there are lots of other shrubs which are doing very well. I suppose you have the same problem.

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    1. Now, that is interesting, Janneke! I would think rhododendrons and azaleas would like the same conditions - unless, like here, it's too hot for the rhodies. I think I'll take your cue and stop trying. There is no reason to continue to cause me frustration - gardening should be fun!

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  27. We grow azaleas in CT and if it werent for the fact that they are "deer candy" I would grow more because I love the range of colors, sizes and shapes, and they are easy to prune. Off season they have lovely, healthy leaves and are an all around good plant. Our first house was landscaped with azaleas, before I knew much about plants, and I was very satisfied with them along the walk and front of the house.

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    1. Didn't realize they were deer candy. I do think they are wonderful plants. A lovely evergreen with a splash of color in spring - who could want for more? Except, of course, that they live! :)

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  28. I'm with the "Move on" camp. From what I've seen of your garden, you don't need azaleas. It's stunning without them. Find something else that wants to be with you, rather than chase after the one that doesn't!

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    1. You are exactly right, Sarah! I was almost convinced to try again, but I think I'll just leave that frustration out of my garden - for a year or two at least. I can always plant something else in those spots, and get much more joy from it.

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  29. The only azalea I remember killing, ever, if you discount the ones the neighbor's boy killed by deciding to drain the antifreeze from his truck and let it run off the driveway down onto my azaleas, was a badly rootbound Encore that never had a chance.

    I think of the advice you've gotten above, I recommend planting high in part shade, amending the soil with leaf mold (My MIL's tip from long ago), mulch with pinestraw and NO cow manure. They have to be kept watered until they're established. I would not fertilize for a year or two, either.

    Or, you could just plant Loropetalums. They bloom sooner, last longer, rebloom in the fall and make a really big show.

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    1. I think I'll go with the loropetalums! At least I know they will grow for me, as I have several of them. Their blooms are not quite as large, though, but you're right - they do put on a display in the fall, too!

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  30. What azaleas are for you, roses are for me. I also gave up. Gardening is supposed to be fun and relaxing and just as in every other aspect of our life, sometimes we have to let go of things we want that just don't work for us :)

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    1. I think most gardeners must have one plant that is elusive to them. I guess we should just grow what grows for us!

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  31. Azaleas will also do well in a container - have you considered this? I've had one in the same pot for 5 years (the plant is 15 years old) it was lifted from my old garden when I moved. I just replace the top few inches of compost (Ericaceous) each spring.
    My 'can't grow' plant is perennial Agastache - I've tried many different ones but for some reason they don't like my garden. I did try again last year and we will see whether or not it makes it come spring time. If not, I will take a leaf from your book and Quit!!

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    1. I am very bad about remembering to water potted plants, but if I could get one on a self-watering system, I think I just might try it! I hope your agastache blooms splendidly for you this year!

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  32. Perhaps in an earlier life you were cursed by the Azalea Fairy. It certainly sounds mysterious. I know almost nothing about azaleas because they are not well adapted to this cold and limey region. To your earlier question, generally it does seem that common plants are easy to grow, and because they are easy to grow they are commmon.

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    1. That's it! It's a curse! :) I always heard to grow the things that your neighbors grow, and that's one reason I planted azaleas in the first place. Then it became a challenge. I just hate to be defeated!

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  33. We had several pretty azaleas at my last house that were planted by the previous owner. At the Red House garden I tried to plant some of those Encore azaleas, but they died a quick death, unfortunately. I have heard that the Encore ones are fussier. (Blame the plant, not the gardener, right?) My mom has some azaleas planted in what is probably the worst red Georgia clay, however, and they seem to do alright. They must only like certain yards, apparently! Well, roses and many other plants evidently like your garden - it might be wise to give up spending time on the elusive azalea!

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    1. Obviously, azaleas are pickier than their reputation implies! I think I'll give up. I could spend that money on something that appreciates my garden!

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  34. I'm that way with Foxgloves. I keep buying them and getting all excited to try them again, and they always croak. Although I've only really tried them in one spot--so maybe that's my problem. ;-)

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    1. I've never tried foxgloves, but I hear they're quite picky. Although, perhaps moving them would give you success!

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  35. Ha ha! Delphiniums were the plants that I could never grow. I gave up. Sometimes, we just need to give up the ghost and move on.

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    1. I agree. No delphiniums for you - and no more azaleas for me!

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  36. I had two azalea plants. One died, after I pruned it - I don't think your supposed to do that.
    The other is thriving, after going through a wobbly phase. I fed it with spent teabags and it sprung back to life, but I'm not sure if that was a coincidence.

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    1. I hate that wobbly phase! I have a plant in my garden (not an azalea) that is going through that right now. Maybe I should feed it with some teabags!

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  37. I tried. They died. End of story. :)

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    1. Yes, that's my entire story in a nutshell! I don't want to write it again next year, so I think I'll just stay away from azaleas from now on!

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  38. I have a couple dwarf ones that grow every so often in the garden in part shade...but they are fussy here and the bunnies love them. I know I may have to give up on a few common plants too...but you will find a wonderful replacement!

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    1. I think a replacement will be much more successful and much more fun than another azalea! Now, where to put in that spot...

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  39. How frustrating! And very puzzling. If no one who grows them successfully is able to tell you what to do differently, I suppose you will just have to admire other people's and hang on to your money. I hate it when that happens.

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    1. Yes, I think hanging on to my money - or using it for a different plant - makes the most sense right now. Perhaps I will try again several years from now. For now, I am defeated.

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  40. I am sorry for you if you really wanted to grow them, but honestly I don't really like them---way too gaudy in some truly horrible colors. I am trying some ever-blooming varieties sent to me by Southern Living to test, and I do like the natives but they are finicky.

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    1. I do agree that sometimes the mix of colors are quite shocking! I hope your test varieties turn out well - and are white, or some other soft color! :)

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  41. I've had no luck with them either. My grandmother told me she dug some up a while back that had presumably died. She tossed them in an empty trash can in her garage & put on the lid & forgot about them. A couple months later, she remembered they were there & opened the lid to find them growing and healthy! Maybe azaleas don't thrive on love.

    Keri

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    1. What a great story! Perhaps I should put mine in the trash! :)

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